Gophers survive Michigan scare, 76-70

Murali Balaji

Gophers’ forward Miles Tarver stepped up to the line, hoping to extend the team’s streak of consecutive free-throw conversions, as well as their perfect mark from the foul line. He missed.
Fortunately for Tarver and Minnesota, the Gophers converted enough opportunities at the line to hold off Michigan, 76-70, Wednesday night at Williams Arena. After the game, the 6-foot-8 senior wasn’t exactly eager to face his teammates after missing the first foul shot after the team had converted its previous 25.
“Is that what it was?” he asked, not hiding his surprise and shock at the Gophers’ sudden success from the line. “I guess I’ll hear about it tomorrow. Maybe I won’t show up for work tomorrow.”
Tarver certainly showed up Wednesday night, scoring 10 points and adding 11 boards and five assists, both team-highs. But the story of the game was the extraordinary volley of scoring between Minnesota’s tandem of Kevin Clark and Quincy Lewis and the Wolverines’ backcourt of Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid.
Lewis’ scoring barrage of 30 points staved off a late Michigan rally, which was ignited by the three-point shooting of Reid (19 points) and Bullock, who finished with a game-high 33 points.
“He went to the basket, he made threes, he rebounded, he did a little of everything tonight,” Wolverines coach Brian Ellerbe said of Bullock.
In fact, both Bullock and Reid turned the game into a two-on-five, full-court contest. With Michigan’s low-post game completely strangled by the Gophers’ interior defense, the Wolverines had to rely almost exclusively on perimeter shots to stay within striking distance.
Wolverines’ forward Josh Asselin and center Pete Vignier had good looks early, but were rendered ineffective by the punishing post play of Tarver and centers Joel Przybilla and Kyle Sanden, both of whom collected eight points and five rebounds.
“Michigan has got some great post players,” Tarver said. “They do a lot of high-low passing with a lot of success. The key was not letting them get position down low and getting pressure on the perimeter guys.”
Gophers’ coach Clem Haskins, who was almost at a loss for words in praising his team’s outstanding overall effort, agreed.
“We wouldn’t let them get the passes inside,” Haskins said. “The key was ball pressure.”
And pressure the Gophers did, using their fast and aggressive backcourt of Clark and Kevin Nathaniel to throw the Wolverines’ halfcourt offense off-balance.
But neither Clark nor Nathaniel could do much to stop Bullock and Reid, who were determined to find their outside shots. Reid and Bullock each nailed five three-pointers, despite being cornered by the Gophers’ press defensive scheme.
“(Nathaniel) is tenacious,” Haskins said. “He did a great job and they still scored 33 and 19 points. That just goes to show how great (Bullock and Reid) really are.”
But it was Bullock who ultimately kept the Wolverines from being annhilated. The Gophers went on a 14-6 run in the beginning of the second half to take a commanding 49-35 lead.
Bullock refused to go down quietly. The 6-foot-3 senior executed a dizzying array of off-balance three-pointers and tough dribble-penetration moves to help bring Michigan to within 59-57 of the Gophers with 6:08 left in the game.
However, Lewis, using his hard baseline moves and strong jumpshooting skills, kept the Gophers’ lead intact. His ability to draw fouls earned him a team-high 16 trips to the foul line, 15 of which he converted.
“It was a hard, physical game,” he said. “We just came out and executed. I think it helped that I got a lot more free-throws tonight.”

MICHIGAN (70)
Asselin 0-3 2-4 2, Smith 1-9 0-0 2, Vignier 4-6 0-0 8, Reid 7-13 0-0 19, Bullock 11-21 6-7 33, Jones 0-2 0-0 2, Young 2-3 0-1 4
TOTALS: 25-57 (.439) FREE-THROWS: 10-14 (.714) THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: 10-24 (.417) REBOUNDS: 28 (Vignier 7) ASSISTS: 14 (Reid 6) BLOCKS: 4 (Smith 2)

MINNESOTA (76)
Lewis 7-19 15-16 30, Tarver 2-3 6-10 10, Przybilla 4-7 0-0 8, Clark 5-11 7-7 18, Nathaniel 1-2 0-0 2, Ohnstad 0-4 0-0 0, Simmons 0-1 0-0 0, Stanford 0-1 0-0 0, Broxsie 0-2 0-0 0, Sanden 1-1 6-6 8
TOTALS: 20-51 (.392) FREE-THROWS: 34-39 (.872) THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: 2-11 (.182) REBOUNDS: 38 (Tarver 11) ASSISTS: 12 (Tarver 5) BLOCKS: 8 (Lewis, Przybilla 2)
ATTENDANCE: 14, 748